Federal law prohibits sex discrimination in the workplace. This includes an employee's right to be free from sexual harassment at the hands of managers and co-workers. In New York, an employee may have the right to seek monetary damages against an employer if he or she is subject to a “hostile work environment” based on their sex.
There is an important caveat. In a 2004 decision, the United States Supreme Court said that an employer may avoid liability for a hostile work environment claim if it can prove it maintained a “readily accessible and effective policy for reporting and resolving complaints of sexual harassment,” and the plaintiff “unreasonably failed” to follow that policy. However, the employer cannot behind its policy if it forces the employee to quit by demoting or humiliating them.
Federal Court Dismisses Suffolk County Employee's Anti-Gay Harassment Claims
Judges in New York take the Supreme Court's decision seriously. For instance, a federal appeals court in Manhattan recently rejected a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by a woman who works for the Suffolk County government. The plaintiff, who is gay, accused her former supervisor and other county employees of creating a “hostile work environment” based on her gender and sexual orientation. For example, she claimed the ex-supervisor repeatedly told her that she “needed to lose weight to look more like a woman” and that one occasion, she was ordered to “strip down to her underwear” and be photographed. In addition, she said other co-workers repeatedly insulted and mocked her for being “gay.”
A trial judge in Suffolk County dismissed the plaintiff's lawsuit outright. Among other reasons, the judge said the plaintiff failed to follow Suffolk County's “sexual harassment reporting procedure.” The county required an employee to report any instances of “discrimination or sexual harassment” to a designated officer in their respective department. The judge said the plaintiff never complained to her designated department official “or otherwise filed any complaint with the County.”
The Second Circuit concurred with the trial judge's findings, noting that “even if the plaintiff had an otherwise viable hostile work environment claim, the County is protected” from the plaintiff's claims under the Supreme Court's 2004 decision.
A New York Sexual Harassment Attorney Can Help
If you experience any kind of discriminatory or hostile actions at work, you need to be aware of your rights and responsibilities under the law. As the case above illustrates, courts may dismiss a sexual harassment claim regardless of the evidence if certain legal procedures are not followed. In many instances, employees may not even be aware of their employer's internal anti-discrimination policies or who they need to file a complaint with.
This is where an experienced New York employment lawyer can help. Many times a hostile work environment claim can be resolved amicably and without litigation. An employer will not hesitate to take advantage of your ignorance of the law. Do not allow your employer to get away with illegal conduct simply because you did not know what to do.
Contact the Law Offices of Mahir S. Nisar if you need to speak with a workplace discrimination attorney who can help you today.